Woman Unafraid (1934)

US / 58 minutes / bw / Goldsmith Dir: William J. Cowan (i.e., William J. Cowen) Pr: Ken Goldsmith, George E. Kann Scr: Mary E. McCarthy Cine: Gilbert Warrenton Cast: Lucile Gleason, Skeets Gallagher, Lona Andre, Warren Hymer, Barbara Weeks, Laura Treadwell, Ruth Clifford, Eddie Phillips, Jason Robards Sr., Erin La Bissoniere, Franklin Parker, Baby Waring, Richard Elliott, Julie Kingdon, Joyce Coad, Florence Wix, George Guhl, Henry Hall, James T. Mack.

Woman Unafraid - 0 opener

It wasn’t all that often that 1930s crime dramas got the balance between drama and humor right—usually you wish they’d just skipped the cringeworthy humor and had a shorter movie—but sometimes they managed to integrate the two elements perfectly. Some of the lines here are laugh-out-loud funny; elsewhere there are moments of genuine, non-bathetic (well, only a bit bathetic) poignancy; and there’s a likeable, entirely admirable heroine to bind everything together.

Augusta Winthrop (Gleason) is a middle-aged cop with a big heart: she’s a universal aunt. A principal duty of hers is to attend the dancehouse run by Tom Brady (Elliott) to make sure none of the dancers are getting so frisky as to commit public indecency, and also of course to check that none of the taxi dancers are offering more than dances. There are flies in her ointment, not least that Mrs. Eleanor Worthington (Treadwell), the self-appointed President of the Girls’ Protective League, has a habit of calling by on the lookout for “outrages.” Ironically, another problem for Augusta is that Eleanor’s nephew, Anthony Desmond (Gallagher), arrives at the club most nights in a skunklike state—a condition in which his hands become . . . venturesome. As one of the taxi dancers remarks of his latest performance on the dancefloor, “That guy ought to be a chiropractor.”

Tonight Augusta has been Continue reading

Cobweb, The (1955)

US / 124 minutes / color / MGM Dir: Vincente Minnelli Pr: John Houseman Scr: John Paxton, William Gibson Story: The Cobweb (1954) by William Gibson Cine: George Folsey Cast: Richard Widmark, Lauren Bacall, Charles Boyer, Gloria Grahame, Lillian Gish, John Kerr, Susan Strasberg, Oscar Levant, Tommy Rettig, Paul Stewart, Dayton Lummis, Jarma Lewis, Adele Jergens, Edgar Stehli, Sandra Descher, Bert Freed, Mabel Albertson, Fay Wray, Oliver Blake, Olive Carey, Eve McVeagh, Virginia Christine, Jan Arvan, Ruth Clifford, Myra Marsh, Marjorie Bennett.

By the mid-1950s the studios were becoming seriously worried over losing their audience to the new kid on the block, TV. One stratagem they tried in response to this threat was the star-studded ensemble movie, of which The Cobweb is a prime example. This blackly comedic soap opera isn’t of much direct noir interest, if any, save for its astonishing cast, with noir icons like Widmark, Grahame and Bacall at the top but others like Jergens and Stewart further down as well as actors better known outside noir but who nevertheless made noir contributions, such as Boyer, Wray, Christine and even Bennett.

Dr. Stewart “Mac” McIver (Widmark) is the de facto chief of a psychiatric clinic, although the physician who ran it for many years, the boozy, philandering Dr. Douglas N. “Dev” Devanal (Boyer), is still formally its Medical Director. Mac has instituted a self-government policy for the patients as part of their therapy; in fact, the place seems more like a posh country hotel with psychotherapy laid on than a grim sanitarium.

Meg Rinehart (Bacall) views Stevie’s designs.

All are agreed that the clinic’s library requires new curtains. Victoria “Vicky” Inch (Gish), in charge of administration, assumes she should order something bland from the usual local supplier, Petlee & Sons. Before she can do so, however, two things happen. First, Mac’s seemingly spoilt, shrewish wife Karen (Grahame), visiting the clinic and discovering the situation, decides to take matters into her own hands and, with the connivance by telephone of the Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, the formidable Regina Mitchell-Smythe (Albertson), orders the most expensive drapes money could buy—to be delivered by special airmail, no less! Second, the extraordinarily repressed patient Sue Brett (Strasberg) suggests the patients should design the new drapes themselves, an idea picked up by the suicidal but artistically talented patient Stevie Holte (Kerr) and supported by the clinic’s art therapist, the widowed Meg Faversen Rinehart (Bacall).

Stevie produces his designs for the drapes, and they’re Continue reading